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Mazda: Taking the hard road back

In a typical year, Mazda sells fewer total vehicles in the U.S. than Toyota sells Camrys, or Honda sells Accords. Or Civics, for that matter.

In 2010, in the heart of the Great Recession, Ford and Mazda unwound their longtime partnership, casting a shadow of the brand's future here. Still, in 2011, Mazda introduced a new efficiency initiative called Skyactiv, which it implemented partially on the 2012 Mazda3 compact and then fully on the CX-5 crossover. 
Skyactiv doesn't re-engineer the internal combustion engine as much as refines it. Piece by piece, system by system, Mazda engineers seek out inefficiencies to resolve. Weight and friction are the two biggies and receive a lion's share of the attention.
In the end, both cars achieve high levels of efficiency and neither compromises Mazda's focus on performance. 
2013 Mazda3 interiorNow, the end-of-year sales numbers are in and the company's future looks brighter than it has in a good long time.
Total sales were 277,046, Mazda's best since 2007 and second-best since 1994.
The 3 sold 123,361 units, of which 69 percent were Skyactiv models.
At 43,319 units, the CX-5 was Mazda's second-best-selling vehicle and is a finalist in the North American Truck/Utility of the Year competition, the winner of which will be announced Jan. 14.
I recently spent a week testing a Mazda3 sedan (it's also available as a hatch), and once again was taken both with its lively, responsive attitude and its 28/40 fuel efficiency ratings. I reviewed the original Skyactiv 3 this time last year and I'm not sure I'll do a full review this time around.
However, if you're shopping in the compact segment, it deserves a serious look.

Too many miles; too few words

I’ve been driving lots but not writing; here's a quick and dirty update:

dashboard stitching, 2013 GMC Terrain Denali

The GMC Terrain Denali aspires for near-luxury quality in the compact crossover category and largely succeeds. Inattention to important details undermines the effort, though. Hint: If you’re going to indulge in stitched dashboards, sew straight or don’t sew.

Hyundai Elantra Coupe

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe

I left the Terrain at the Spokane airport and on the other end - the Newark, New Jersey, airport - picked up a Hyundai Elantra Coupe. The coupe, which is new to the Elantra lineup, performed valiantly over 10 days of high-speed New Jersey Turnpike warfare. It 1.8-liter four makes 148 hp, which is plenty, though the optional six-speed automatic is geared for economy and the quick downshifts required by the parry-and-thrust of freeway driving weren’t in the cards.

"Maple-syrup shifts," my notes read.

Sidebar: New Jersey drivers are fast but also polite and predictable. They understand the art of the merge, get it that letting the other guy into your lane is not a sign of weakness and stay out of the far left lane except when passing.

2013 Mazda3

2013 Mazda3

On Christmas Eve, we were met at the Seattle airport by a 2013 Mazda3 sedan. Smaller even than the Elantra and incredibly efficient (40 mpg highway) the 3 was, as always, a fun drive, lively and responsive. Our tester wore brand-new Goodyear Blizzak winter tires, which earned their keep on a Christmas-night Snoqualmie Pass run. Adaptive Xenon headlights shined up the road like the deck of an aircraft carrier, a complete godsend out on that dark and snow-splotched piece of road.

2013 Honda Accord Sport

2013 Honda Accord Coupe

In October, I wrote admiringly about the ninth-generation, 2013 Honda Accord, a return to form for a car that had lost its edge. Now there’s a new trim, called Sport (from $24,470), which slots into the lineup just above the base LX. On the heels of the short-wheel-base imps I’d been driving, the Accord felt like a grown-ups’ car; quiet, solid and settled on the road. I’ll write more in coming days, but will wrap with the observation that this Accord could reign again as America’s best-selling passenger car.